Friday, April 1, 2011

Cautionary Tale in the Chronicle

I read with interest this article in the Chronicle of Higher Ed, in which Rena Kraut tells the disappointing story of the time she found out she didn't get a job because of a celebratory Facebook post from the friend who did get it. I quote at length:

On a Friday afternoon, just days before my due date [she was super pregnant during this job search], I gave up waiting by the phone for the weekend, figuring I would resume my breathless anticipation on Monday. Browsing Facebook, I came upon a status update from an old friend I had worked with a decade ago. Something about it caught my eye. Could it be? ... No ... oh, no, he didn't. ...

He did. He had posted his job offer and subsequent acceptance on Facebook. And the reader can well guess what job that was.

No need to detail the ensuing hormonal rant, nor the contained message of congratulations I sent off. But be sure that, when the call from the dean came three days later—three days, long enough to rise from the dead, for Pete's sake—and told me I was not The One, my answer was, "I know. I've known since Friday."

Rejection via Facebook. It's a whole new world out there.

Readers of the administrative ilk, I hope you can learn from my cautionary tale. For while this university had been the very model of respect and propriety throughout the hiring process, it sadly stumbled at the finish line. Judging from the shock in the dean's voice, the hiring committee had not foreseen that, in a world where information moves faster than one might wish, the final candidates might connect with each other—albeit accidentally—faster than the university communicated with them.

I thought it was pretty interesting because certain details sounded awfully familiar. This is pretty much how I found out I didn't get the job I on-campus-interviewed for. And as I read the passage, I thought, You're lucky. At least they told you at all, however late. My people seem to have just figured I'd hear through the grapevine eventually, because they didn't bother to do me the courtesy of ever contacting me at all—let alone contacting me on a Monday to let me know they'd hired someone the previous Friday.

--Mr. Zero


Anonymous said...

What if you then showed up for work, George Costanza-style?

Anonymous said...

I don't think this can be counted against the hiring department. They waited over the weekend? Big deal. It might take half a business day of paperwork and getting things in order before you want to talk to the other finalists.

It's a small profession. If you're Facebook friends, or even just friends, with a lot of your colleagues, you're going to find out about stuff like this pretty fast.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes they can't yet. E.g., a position might not be considered finalized and a hire complete until the candidate has successfully passed a background check. This is a formality, of course, but nevertheless the check still takes eight weeks to clear, which means that it's mid-May before anyone is permitted to contact the second and third choices.

Not that it doesn't suck, but I'm not sure what the dean was supposed to do. Call the second choice on a Saturday night? (I've had that happen. It sucks!) Rejection sucks. The market sucks. Nothing new under the sun, &c.

Anonymous said...

Don't see anything to complain about. Sure it sucks not to get the job, but hey, this person blames the department for waiting too long (three days!?) to tell her she didn't get the job. Really, for the Chronicle to publish this bs is kinda embarrassing.

zombie said...

Being contacted after three days is pretty quick all things considered. Seeing it first on Facebook isn't that surprising. You can't really expect any department to beat instantaneous mass communication given how long it takes to get contracts signed and finalized. The dept probably won't want to blow off the also-rans until they've got the contract.

Not being contacted at all is not cool. But... I was up for a job last year, and it took them about three months to send me a letter telling me I didn't get the job. During that time, no contact at all, including no response to an email from me. By then, I had already seen the listing on Leiter Reports identifying the new hire. So, FWIW, you may yet get the bad news in writing, Mr Z. Just in case you were looking for another nail for that coffin.

Anonymous said...

I don't see how this story is so unique. I, a few years back, found out I didn't get the job via Leiter's blog post. I'm sure I'm not the only one.

Ben said...

I'm in the UK where usual practice is to interview all candidates on the same day. The offer usually goes to first choice that day or maybe next.

From one job last year I was on the train with one of the other candidates when they got the phone call offering them the job. I still don't think I ever got an official rejection.

Anonymous said...

I agree that this was a BS complaint. Also, pretty unclassy to mention it to the dean.

Anonymous said...

Something odd is up with some of the entries on Phylo (i.e. some of them are neither responding to updates nor loading the comments). Does anyone know what's up?

Matthew Slater said...

I tend to agree that the three-day complaint isn't all that serious (you can't expect official channels of communication to beat unofficial ones on ANYTHING), but I cannot see that the reason for this should have much to do with the finalizing (possibly with 8-week-long background checks, &c.) of a position. The department is in possession of information that you would very much appreciate knowing (even if it would disappoint you): they voted their offer to someone else and this person offered a verbal acceptance. That is not to say that this person is HIRED; something might yet fall through with the paperwork: But don't count on it. I've been told basically this before — not by a dean, but by a department chair. It seems to me a reasonable courtesy to transmit this information in a reasonable amount of time (a few business days?).

Anonymous said...

Vice-versa, I once found out I had a job in quite a weird way. I had a fly-out to Department X and Department Y. I knew that both departments were meeting on the same day to make their decisions. That day I got an email from Department X saying "Sorry, we've decided to offer the job to another applicant, but congratulations on your offer from Department Y!" I didn't hear from Department Y for another 4 days, when they phoned me to offer me the job. Turns out they had to run it by the Dean before contacting me.

Obviously I can't complain since it was ultimately great news, but still, it was a weird way to find out. Why/how did Department X know before I did?

And those 4 days... jeez. On the one hand, I was obviously hopeful and expecting the job offer. But on the other hand, I couldn't celebrate yet, and every day that passed with no word from Department Y made me suspect more and more that I had received false information from Department X and that I'd be jobless. Ugh. Needless to say, there was much sitting by my phone and refreshing my inbox.

david morrow said...

The Phylo job wiki is back up.

Thanks for the heads up about the problem, Anon 10:43. We've been cleaning up the database this week after a horde of Russian spammers descended on the site. A minor but critical row in the database got corrupted, which prevented some of the entries from displaying correctly. (None of the data itself was corrupted or lost.) We've fixed the problem, and everything appears to be running normally again.

Sorry about that! I know this is a nail-biting time for a lot of people.

Anonymous said...

I had an on-campus interview in 1999 about which I've still not heard whether I got the position. I don't think I got it.

m.a. program faculty member said...

To follow up on Matthew Slater's post:

I agree that there isn't anything serious to complain about here. But as a "best practice," why not contact all of the other on-campus candidates right after you've made your job offer to the person you've selected and let them know what's up? And then contact them again after the offer has been accepted and officially approved?

I'd hope that most people are adult enough and aware enough of the realities of the job market that they're not going to be offended if candidate #1 turns down the offer and later they end getting the offer, knowing they weren't the top choice. If anything, I'd hope it would leave a good impression with the people not initially offered the job, such that they'd be more likely to accept an offer if one later was forthcoming.

Anonymous said...

I had a phone interview in 1971 that I've never heard anything about since. I might have been on LSD when I did the interview though. They might have sent a letter of rejection, but I probably used it to roll joints. Philosophy has been a good trip ever since.

Anonymous said...

Completely disagree with all the posters saying there is nothing to complain about here.

Times have changed, technology has changed, and hiring practices need to change to keep up with that. It's just not ok to find out by facebook that you didn't get the job. The successful candidate's entire social network knows before you, rejected candidate, does.

Since this is so very predictable and inevitable, and could be so easily avoided, I think search committees need to get their shit together and stop it happening. How hard is it to make a phone call?

Anonymous said...

3:17, "How hard is it to make a phone call?"

It's not hard, but it is improper. At my university, we cannot contact finalists to let them know they didn't get the job until we get a signed contract from the person we hired. This can take at least a week (considering the speed of the mail service and the need for the candidate to read the contract before signing it - and the smart ones will sit down with a lawyer to look over the contract). Also, just because someone accepts an offer over the phone does not mean they will sign the contract; they may get a better offer, and ultimately reject the first offer.

Imagine a scenario where a SC made the offer, and then made that phone call to the other finalists to tell them they have filled the position. Now, that person does not accept the offer, and the SC has to go back to the next person on the list to make an offer. Unfortunately, the SC already turned them down. Now the SC looks unprofessional (and, no doubt, would be mocked on blogs such as this).

When signed contracts can be sent out and returned with the same speed at which Facebook operates, then SCs can solve this problem.

Mr. Zero said...

At my university, we cannot contact finalists to let them know they didn't get the job until we get a signed contract from the person we hired.

Other people have raised this point, too, so I'm not just picking on you, anon 9:15. But this explanation leaves me cold. Although it explains why it is so common to get the news via Facebook or Leiter, it does not explain why it is so common for search committees to literally never contact the people ever again once they've hired someone else.

Someone from the search committee should reach out to the each rejected applicant and let her know that her time and effort were appreciated although she didn't get the job, and the search committee wishes her well. You shouldn't put in the time and effort that goes into preparing for and traveling to an on-campus interview and then just never hear from the search committee again.

Imagine a scenario where a SC made the offer, and then made that phone call to the other finalists to tell them they have filled the position. Now, that person does not accept the offer, and the SC has to go back to the next person on the list to make an offer.

If that scenario happened to me, and they called me back to offer me a job they'd already told me they'd offered to someone else, I would be all like, FUCK YEAH!!!!!!! I GOT A JOB!!!! FINALLY!!!!! FUCK YEAH!!!!!!!!! A RAISE!!!!!! A PROMOTION!!!!!! YES!!!!!!. Or something. And if search committees leave people in the dark longer than is necessary because they are afraid I will make fun of them in these pages, then that is so pathetic I can't even form a mental picture of how pathetic that is.

Also, I don't think that's the kind of thing I would make fun of someone for. Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't think I make fun of people for making honest mistakes. I make more than my share of honest mistakes myself. I make fun of people who treat other people unfairly. I make fun of people who make up absurd rationalizations for why it's okay to treat people unfairly. I don't think I would make fun of people who offer someone a job, and then that person turns them down, and then they have to offer the job to someone else. I guess I might make fun of the person who reneged on the signed contract (though I doubt it), but I really don't think I'd make fun of the search committee who had been left in the lurch.

But maybe I'm wrong about the sort of person I make fun of. If so, I'm sure someone will let me know.

Anonymous said...

So what University is it where you can't even contact a candidate to tell them they are the second choice and that an offer has been made to someone else? I call BS.

sure, as a tactic, some departments might decide to keep the second choice in the dark so as to give them the illusion later that if the first choice doesn't sign the official paperwork or turns them down for some reason, that they were perhaps the first choice.

But, from my point of view, I'd much rather be kept aware of what's going on ("we've made an offer to someone else, but if they say no, we'll consider you") than kept in the dark to generate the illusion that I might have been the first choice.

So: its one thing to have to wait to contact the other candidates to tell them they _didn't get the job_ until the official offer has been accepted by someone else.

But its another thing to have to wait to contact the other candidates to tell them that _an offer has been made to someone else" - surely, they're allowed to do the latter.

So this is over and above what Mr. Zero said, which is also perfectly sensible.

Anonymous said...

I got a job once. The chair asked me not to say anything publicly until it had been made official and he had the chance to break the news to the other candidates.

Yes, there are some classy and considerate people out there. Go and be like that guy.

zombie said...

Seems to me there's no perfect solution here.

Departments ought to be held to standards of professional behavior. Someone who has just been hired, is excited, and posts it to FB isn't engaging in behavior that is necessarily held to a standard of professional behavior.

For dept X to avoid their other candidates hearing about the hire on FB (or Phylo, or wherever), they either have to keep new hires from broadcasting the good news, or they have to call all their candidates as soon as they make an offer and give them the bad news. But then, if #1 decides against accepting the job, they've got to go back to those other candidates and offer one of them the job. This will leave at least some people feeling jerked around and bitter (and some, ecstatically happy). (And some will feel both.)

When you get a job offer, the customary deadline for accepting it is two weeks, although some candidates ask for, and get, an extension if they have other interviews lined up (I did). It can take a couple more weeks to get the contract mailed, signed, etc. Only after the contract is signed by both sides is there a binding offer and a contractual obligation. What if, 13 days after getting an offer (or 20 days), you get a second, better offer? But Dept X already called all their candidates 13 days earlier? That's 13 days of someone believing they did not get the job. And then, it's offered to them. Of course, they might be extremely happy to get the offer, but they also had those 13 days of feeling rejected and miserable. I'm not sure it's really ethical for Dept X to inflict that on someone unnecessarily, or just to avoid the possibility that #1 will post it online somewhere.

So, given that you can't really demand that potential hires immediately accept a job offer, and you can't prevent them from posting to FB if they want to, and you don't want to cause unnecessary misery, what's a conscientious SC to do? I guess if the bad news is going to arrive sooner or later, the 13 days sooner doesn't matter. Unless you end up getting the job as the second choice, in which case, you suffered avoidably.

A compromise?: don't post it online until you've accepted the job and signed the contract. And departments should then immediately -- the same day -- notify their other candidates. None of this waiting three months crap. And it's completely unacceptable and unprofessional to never notify at all.

Anonymous said...

There's some shifting in the last few comments between contacting candidates when an offer is made and when an offer is verbally accepted, which seem to be two importantly different scenarios.

Also, there's another strategic point (from the hiring department's perspective) that I don't think has been raised. Informing second- and third-choice candidates that an offer has been made/verbally accepted increases the chances that they will accept other an offer elsewhere, if they have or receive one. Keeping them in the dark makes them more likely (and maybe better able) to wait for your offer.

Anonymous said...

9:15 here again.

The second reply: I work for a state university that has rather clear guidelines on hiring. If we eliminate an applicant upon our initial review, we can send a rejection. We (the department) try to do that as soon as possible. However, when we have a short list of finalists, we can't outright reject them if they are still in the running. We - and other departments I know - do contact the finalists to tell them the progress of the search. But HR and state guidelines tie our hands regarding what we can and cannot say. We feel that simply keeping the lines of communication open is better than silence.

Zero, yes, it's bad never to hear back from a department. That's unprofessional, and there's nothing else to be said. And what I was thinking in my scenario was that I can see a post where someone complains about how unprofessional and poorly-prepared a department was by first rejecting, then offering a job to someone. I can imagine someone saying, "wow, why would they reject me, when they could have just told me I was still in the running?" Ideally, SCs would send out their initial rejections early, and then keep the lines of communication open with all the finalists. But from what I can tell, that's (sadly) asking for too much from some departments. And no, it wouldn't be hard to maintain a level of professionalism with finalists. And yet...

Mr. Zero said...

Hi 9:15,

what I was thinking in my scenario was that I can see a post where someone complains about how unprofessional and poorly-prepared a department was by first rejecting, then offering a job to someone.

I see what you mean. And I can see where the conversation would be awkward for the search committee chair or whoever was making the call ("I know we told you we hired somebody else, but... uh... are you still free, at all?). But I think it would be regarded as a welcome surprise by the formerly-rejected candidate, however weird--at least, that's how I'd take it. I don't think the scenario you describe is inherently unprofessional (though, like anything, there are ways to handle it unprofessionally).

Xenophon said...

If a candidate posts his acceptance of an offer on Leiter or Phylo, I think it's reasonable for the hiring department (which can monitor these sites) to take it as a given that the candidate won't reject the offer to take another job instead. Because it would be an affront to the hiring department to string them along publicly. If you just have an offer in hand, don't post it for all the philosophy world to see.

The same would apply to social networking, with one caveat: you should make sure your privacy settings are set so that the hiring department can see the post, just like they could on Leiter. That allows them, if you've gone public with the news that you're accepting their offer, to immediately contact other candidates. Of course, the department then could say "another candidate has accepted our offer, but this is not yet official."

Anonymous said...

Me again...

"though, like anything, there are ways to handle it unprofessionally"

Certainly. This is why when I serve on a SC, I make it a point to try and keep the lines of communication open with finalists. We can't tell them everything, but we tell them what we can, we update them when there are changes to our timeline, etc. Another thing I find helpful is to make sure that all communication goes through the chair of the SC. He/She is responsible for contacting the finalists, and all other queries are directed to him/her. I find that it's very easy for things to become chaotic - and even unprofessional - when several people are involved in this part of the work. For instance, if one person is not specifically designated as the contact person, everyone may assume it's someone else's job, and then nobody gets contacted properly.

We had one search where the contract got lost in the mail, and it took a week before anyone figured it out. (We thought the candidate had it, and she thought we were slow in sending it.) By the time we got another one out, we knew it would set our timeline back by 2 more weeks. However, nobody on that committee thought to contact the remaining finalists, who all got antsy and started calling.

What I have never understood is why so few departments don't overnight express the contract out, and ask that candidates overnight it back. It could be all taken care of within the span of one week. For a small added expense (and the department could even cover the cost of the return mail for the candidate), the turnaround time could be much improved.

A-158 said...

But I think it would be regarded as a welcome surprise by the formerly-rejected candidate, however weird--at least, that's how I'd take it.

Agreed. I know someone this happened to. It was a complete and welcome surprise to him. However, it was not one that he found all that odd, in the larger scheme of things, since it is not unheard of for people to accept jobs and then not take them for one reason or another (career change, illness, other job offer). Rare, but not odd.